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This article was published 27/8/2017 (728 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The annual Manitoba Filipino Street Festival Saturday in downtown Winnipeg offered a tantalizing glimpse into one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Canada.
The event kicked off Saturday morning with a parade downtown and settled into full festival mode at Memorial Park through the evening.
Thousands attended, floats were parked by the curb on Broadway across from the legislature, 28 different food vendors offered Filipino street food and dozens of kiosks advertised everything from banking and immigration services to car dealerships and even free five-minute massages.
The annual festival was expected to draw upwards of 15,000 people and by mid-afternoon Saturday, a stage was set up at the Broadway entrance to the legislature anticipating the appearance of a popular movie star from Manila.
"This is our sixth year; the first festival was in 2012 and it’s our second year here on Broadway," said festival organizer and Filipino newspaper publisher Ley Navarro.
"From 2012 to 2015 we were at Garden City (shopping centre) but the capacity there was for 10,000. Here, last year the city and province estimated there were 15,000," Navarro noted.
Crowds at Memorial Park spilled over on to Memorial Boulevard and along Broadway between Osborne and Vaughan streets.
Filipino Canadians are among the fastest growing populations in Canada.
Federal data on languages released this spring by Statistics Canada from the 2016 Census showed more than 7.7 million people reported a mother tongue that was neither English nor French; the Filipino language of Tagalog was the fastest-growing language, followed by Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and Urdu.
The figures add another dimension to the portrait of Canada the five-year census began painting earlier this year.
Additional layers will be added later this year, including income data in September, immigration and Indigenous Peoples numbers in October, and figures detailing education, jobs and work patterns in November.
The jump in Tagalog can be linked to the high number of immigrants from the Philippines, which has been a top source for immigrants to Canada over the past five years.
Navarro said he believes Winnipeg is home to the second largest Filipino population in the country and estimated the province is home to about 70,000 Filipino Canadians, second only to Toronto, which has a population of 350,000 Filipino Canadians.
The biggest sponsor of the Manitoba festival is, in fact, a TV network from the island nation. The Filipino Channel is widely watched on Canadian cable networks. Toronto and Winnipeg co-ordinate their street festivals so a TFC superstar from Manila every year can attend both festivals, one after the other.
First timers to the festival this year included recent landed immigrants as well as long-time Filipino Canadians.
"It’s my first time actually seeing this," said Eddie Closas, looking around at the crowds. "I’m very proud to be part of this. I came here in 1980 and the biggest difference since then is I see a lot of Filipino groups, all from different provinces back home. Here, when you see them, they all get together even though they don’t know each other. It’s like we’re all brothers and sisters here," he said.
Closas was seated among 30 others in folding chairs waiting for a five-minute free massage from the Maples Chiropractic clinic which hosted one of the kiosks.
Joyce Luyun was waiting with her 12-year-old daughter in another line, for ethnic food. "Two years now, " she said when asked how long she’d been in Winnipeg.
"I’m craving some of our native Filipino food," she smiled, "And I want to see how our culture here is celebrated," she said.
Daily, new immigrants arrive from The Philippines, due mostly to the wildly popular provincial-nominee program but also as a result of federal skills program for landed immigrants.
Navarro said Filipino immigrants with university degrees and work experience are sought after because they usually speak English and they’re familiar with western democratic institutions.
English is widely spoken in The Philippines, the language of instruction in schools and the common language of business, Navarro said. He and his wife immigrated to Canada after the former Brandon Mental Health Centre invited her to come to Canada in 1984 to fill a shortage for psychiatric occupational therapists.
Navarro said when the Canadian Embassy first called their home in The Philippines all those years ago, he hung up on them, thinking it was a joke. The embassy called back, and the rest was history, he said.
The other factor related to the rising rates of immigrants is probably he focus schools put on civics classes in the island nation, Navarro said. Kids are taught about the importance of casting their votes in elections from Grade one on, until high school graduation. Every class votes for its own student president and vice-president, every year, he said.
"It’s just like regular politics. Student candidates make speeches, campaign promises. You won’t believe that but every Filipino knows that," Navarro chuckled.
In February, census data showed the national population would have been potentially far below 35.15 million if not for an influx of immigrants Statistics Canada said accounted for about two-thirds of the population increase between 2011 and 2016. Immigration will be the dominant source of growth by 2056, Statistics Canada predicts, as natural, fertility-fuelled growth declines due to an aging population — for the first time, there are more seniors than children 14 and under — and a declining birth rate.
Federal data also show the Philippines was the top source for immigrants last year, and a major source for immigrants since the last census in 2011.
It’s why Roman Catholic churches around Winnipeg are providing masses in Tagalog, and why Canada’s first senator of Filipino decent has found Tagalog speakers as far as Iqaluit.
"Filipinos speak English and will do so proudly in their everyday use. However, when a large group of Filipinos are together, or when no other non-Filipino speakers are around, Tagalog is often spoken," Sen. Tobias Enverga told Canadian Press earlier this year.
"This is an important way for Filipinos to maintain their own heritage and language while also embracing Canadian culture and values," the senator said, noting Winnipeg is home to Filipino grocery stories, restaurants, four newspapers and a few radio stations.
Statistics Canada estimated earlier this year the Filipino community could be among the fastest growing group in Canada by 2036, although not as fast as the Arab community, which is projected to see its numbers jump by 200 per cent or more depending on immigration levels over that time.
— with files from Canadian Press
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.